History Is a Book with Many Chapters

We’ve accepted this month’s invitation into Black History

Danita Boonchaisri, an aptly titled communications specialist with Calvert County, was once a student of mine. So our encounters, regardless of subject, are surrounded by a halo of memories. Insubstantial as ghosts, these memories are felt rather than seen. Would they reappear if we nudged them?
    “Do you remember if Sue Lee was in your class?” I asked as we ended a call on a story for this week’s paper. The woman I named had just appeared, by the magic of email, out of time.
    “That was 20 years ago!” Danita laughed.
    My father used the same line, substituting 50 for 20 years, when I pressed him to tell stories of old times. “How do you expect me to remember?” he’d grouse. Then, if his mood was good, he’d tell the requested story as if he were there.
    Me, I can’t remember what I did last Valentine’s Day. Or last Tuesday, except in the broadest outline since Bay Weekly weeks follow the same pattern Monday through Thursday. I’m pretty sure I remember Sue Lee. I’m also pretty sure my memory is more full of holes than the Swiss cheese that’s my grandson Jack’s favorite.
    Plot and characters of a book I devoured in January are already fading, though I loved it so that I continued the story in my dreams. I merged perhaps 20 hours of my life with The Art of Fielding, and now I’m losing it and them.
    If history is a book with many chapters, I’ve forgotten most of them.
    That’s one of the reasons dedicated days and months — like Valentine’s Day and Black History Month — are worth celebrating. Each such designated occasion opens one of the chapters in the very big book of human history and invites us to jump in. Accept the invitation, and we’ll be seeing history as if we were there.
    Black history month is one of those invitations Bay Weekly always accepts, and over the years we’ve turned out some pretty interesting feature stories on the subject. The unusual frequency of black statues, per statue capita, in Annapolis, for one. The rise of black history tourism for another. (Browse our history on the subject by choosing Editor’s Desk at bayweeky.com, then Archives. Year by year, look in issues 7 or 8.)
    In the process of finding and telling or retelling these stories, writers and I — and I sure hope you —learned a lot we never imagined. Why, for example, Annapolis has each of its black statues, three, by my count, one a bust of Aris Allen alone; the others groupings you’ll read about in this issue. Revisiting that subject for this year’s feature, Touring Black History, reminded me how powerful the stories are — and how much I’d forgotten.
    This year, a hand-delivered letter to the editor made a personal appeal for my attention, and yours.
    February is a time set aside for all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity to take a moment, sit back and reflect on the contributions made by this group, wrote R.M. Brown of Annapolis in a letter you’ll read below.
    So I sent myself and a few writers on a hunt for places in Chesapeake Country where you could stand on the spot of history. I started with the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis, which I’m shamed to say I hadn’t visited since its expansion. It’s a sacred space you enter there. The original building is an old church; that’s one reason. The other is that truth is told in all you see in history and art.
    Each spot on our tour has its own resonance, and you’ll feel it, so your tour will be an encounter of both heart and mind.
    Opening your mind to an event makes you a magnet, don’t you think? Even without trying, it comes to you. You’ve had that happen, haven’t you? You’ve learned a new word or concept, and now you stumble over it everywhere.
    Back to books, I’m such a fan of some of Dennis Lehane’s writing that I’ve listened to Mystic River twice as a talking book as well as having seen it a couple of times as a movie. But I’ve opened Lehane’s huge The Given Day a few times only to close it again. This week, I checked out the library audio book because, limited to old-fashioned cassettes, I couldn’t find a better book for my driving time. Natch, it caught me, so I’ve just listened to a hair-raising reenactment of racism in a black pickup baseball game overtaken by a trainload of World Series Cubs and Red Sox, all white, led by Babe Ruth.
    No matter what your team, American history is a shared story. You won’t find a better time to read into that chapter.